Inspiring a consumer brand tribe

Inspiring Your Brand’s Tribe

It’’s a marketer’’s dream, how cool it is to inspire consumers to form a cult or a tribe around a brand. To develop such compelling attributes that consumers can’’t wait to become a part of the brand; can’’t wait to be identified by it and adopt it into their lifestyles; and can’’t live without it. While the brand that excites consumers to this great a degree seems enviable, I think that the next evolutionary step in marketing promises to make brands even more enduring than the formation of cults.

The power of brands that inspire expression and individuality

Consumers will increasingly latch onto brands that encourage freedom of expression; that enable them to celebrate their individuality. Here’’s my rationale: brands that inspire tribal formations are adopted into consumers’’ lifestyles. But what happens when those brands rest on their laurels a little too long by failing to remain innovative, or new brands come along that pull on their heartstrings in a more meaningful manner?

Interestingly, research supports this. Consumers who are oriented to brands in a cult-like manner are eventually likely to move to other brands that they find fresh and compelling. And those brands might not even be in the same categories.

Staking out a position and standing for something is as important as it ever was for today’’s brands. Resisting the temptation to try to be all things to all people is crucial. Challenging the status quo is a big plus. And doing it in a unique, memorable manner is even better. Creating a brand persona is humanizing and encourages the formation of relationships. How enduring those relationships become depends upon whether the brand evolves with its adherents. But here’’s where I think brands can take their marketing up a notch.

Instead of persuading consumers to subscribe to the specific attributes of the brand and its personality, why not encourage individual creativity and expression instead? Why not use the brand as a springboard and its own personality as motivation for consumers to explore their own ideas? I’’m talking about going beyond offering customization and personalization, which made brands like Jones soda famous and M&M’’s cooler than they already were. Not to mention Nike ID. “”Have it your way”” is much more than a jingle now. But we can go further than that.

It’’s no secret that toy and entertainment brands are exciting to me. They have their own stories and personas, right? Yet, kids are encouraged to create their own stories around their favorite brands; to make them their own. There’’s a lot of insight in that. LEGO provides us with a great example of this kind of thinking, which is why the brand has experienced huge popularity and success. The focus isn’’t on selling basic bricks, or sets, licensed or otherwise. The brand encourages kids to take their products and make whatever they choose to create. In their own way. And then share it with their friends. Take note: that’’s more elevated than brands’ invitations to join the cults that they’’re trying to establish. Interestingly, LEGO fans created a cult themselves and in the manner in which they chose. Even more interesting is the fact that LEGO fans continue to be rabid brand enthusiasts even as adults. There’’s a level of emotional connection there that doesn’’t always remain in place when brands stake out lifestyle positioning.

Here’’s another observation: It’’s become so popular for brands to create lifestyle imagery to which they expect consumers to aspire, that it’’s tough to be on the receiving end of the barrage. Consumers just might be on lifestyle overload these days. Is it any wonder that they are reluctant to permanently subscribe to specific brands? Then, there’’s this: rather than being identified by brands, there is plenty of data suggesting that younger consumers are interested in brands that deliver memorable experiences.

Sounds great, but how many brands are like LEGO? How many sell consumer products that encourage individuality and creativity? Not enough. But the ones that do have a huge following.

Lays Potato Chips’ ““Do Us a Flavor”” contest became wildly successful by encouraging consumer submissions for new flavors. They’’ve allowed consumers to have fun by coming up with combinations that range from fabulous to odd. Everybody understands that only a few entries will ultimately be chosen, but who cares? The PR generated by this is immense as consumers light up social media with an exchange of ideas and enthusiastic exchanges. Brand immersion and interactivity of this nature just might be more powerful than lifestyle branding.

MAC Cosmetics launched #MACnificent Me, a year-long user-generated content campaign, encouraging consumers to “”celebrate your style, heart and soul”” by submitting their own mantras about the essence of beauty. Guess what? 70,000 consumers responded. Six winners were chosen; each with a unique, personal makeup style. No tutorials on how to apply makeup in a prescribed manner here. MAC brand enthusiasts of all ages simply embraced the idea of pushing the limits of their creativity with makeup. The message here: isn’’t it great that there are no rules and that you can express yourself with makeup in any way you’’d like?


  • Can you cite other examples of brands that are encouraging creativity and leading consumers to envision how they would adopt the brand into their own lives?
  • What other ways can consumers be inspired to form a cult or tribe around a brand?

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